Top 10 Albums of 2012 So Far….Part 1

Here’s 10-6. The rest later.

10. Loudon Wainwright III – Older Than My Old Man Now

I have loved the last two LW3 albums – (“High Wide And Handsome” and “Songs For the New Depression”). In his later years, he has made thematic albums, and this time, to honour him being older than his father when he died, it’s about age. 15 songs all about getting older – either wanting life to last twice as long (‘Double Lifetime’), being nostalgic for sex (‘I Remember Sex’) or time travel (‘Date Line’) – it’s amazing that he picked a theme this time that gives and gives.

It’s his usual mix. A couple of witty and clever numbers, then a couple of jaw dropping songs of stark directness. ‘FCC – in C’ is my favourite of the lot. He even rocks out a little on ‘The Here And Now’. But mainly it’s his love of folk, bluegrass and since ‘High Wide And Handsome’ that banjo.

9. Lightships – Electric Cables

Lightships is Gerald Love of Teenage Fanclub. It’s his first solo record, and on his own, it’s pretty clear what he brings to his day job. It’s VERY pretty. Very twinkly. It’s close to Belle & Sebastian in many moments – or Real Estate. It’s dreamy, jangly pop or the Sarah Records variety. It sounds a little like a throwback to the British jangly 80s, but it’s warm and lovely in a modern way.

It’s a confident debut. Every note, every guitar line, every harmony is perfectly placed. It takes it time. On first listen it sounds a bit samey (it’s broken up nicely on vinyl) – but go for a walk in the sun with it. Especially by the water. It’s quiet and medative, bit it’s deep and interesting too. The vocals are lightly buried in the wall of jangly guitars – it’s an album about sound.

But some moments do threaten to break free of it’s relaxed mood – the stunning ‘Sweetness In Her Spark’ is a sure bet for the end of year playlist.

8. Regina Spektor – What We Saw From The Cheap Seats

This is at 8 because I feel like I’m still getting to know this album. And maybe because it’s not the knock-out Regina Spektor album that I keep waiting for. The single ‘All The Rowboats’ was a bit of a dummy pass. That restless, relentless single is unlike the rest of the album. Stripping away the production excesses of “Far”, there are plenty of Regina and piano moments here. She lets her voice and her songs shine through.

Pretty moments shine through on first listens. ‘How’ is breathtaking – the kind of ballad that would have probably been boring in other hands. There’s some touching intimacy, such as ‘Firewood’. And then just when it all gets a bit serious and well crafted, there’s ‘Rowboats’ and the brilliant, brilliant ‘Don’t Leave Me (Ne Me Quitte Pas)’. I mean, just calling a song that is a risky move – how could anything beat the Brel song? But it’s a bit of pure pop bliss.

It’s not as good as Begin To Hope – something has been lost. But it’s a solid yet eclectic album. I can’t wait to get to know it better.

7. Bruce Springsteen – Wrecking Ball

This album has like 7 or 8 of the best songs I’ve heard all year. None of them sound like they’re from the same album. And then a couple of the worse songs I’ve heard all year as well. And that’s Springsteen for ya. He attempts to reach the heights few others do – and he’s willing to risk failing by doing it. So, we have another late era, wildly inconsistent album by the boss. But still full of lyrical fire and rock ‘n’ roll power.

I find this album rattling around in my head all the time. Those thundering moments – the chorus of ‘Shackled And Drawn’, the cry of ‘Easy Money’ and the title track itself. There’s a folky feel to the rockers – like a strng band giving it all. He’s lost little of his fire over the years

Then there’s a couple of wonderful songs about spooky suburbia. ‘Jack Of All Trades’ is probably his best character study since ‘Devils And Dust’. ‘You’ve Got It’ is a man that is not afraid to look you in the eye and tell it to you straight. Great songs by a man who is still pumping out great songs, 40 years into his career.

Then why the fuck is there crap like the hip hop fusion of ‘Rocky Ground’? This album is all over the place. But hey, great in the iPod era – great when you shuffle through a 2012 playlist. Can you fault the man for trying? Maybe just 6 places you can.

6. Alabama Shakes – Boys & Girls

OK, so first of all, terrible album title. And cover. It’s enough to put me off trying this band out, despite all the great notices they’ve been getting from folks I respect. But I’m glad I did. This is a soulful rock record. I’ve been obsessed by the Stones of late, and the Alabama Shakes have been occupying the same place in my ears and heart.

Brittany Howard’s voice. What an instrument. You just know this voice will be with us for a couple of decades. But it’s not just Brittany’s show. The band are firing on all cylinders here. Tasteful but all over the place. Simple but rocking hard. It’s one for the riff heads – the guitar playing is extraordinary.

The band have some sort of hazy ‘save me’ sort of thing going on. It’s very gospel – which suits their sound. It’s not the most lyrically compelling moment – but hopefully that will come. But it’s rock ‘n’ soul – and something new as well. Finally some swing is back – and for once, I’m not alone in thinking this is a good thing.

Continuous Hit Music: Bruce Springsteen – Darkness On the Edge of Town

Continuous Hit Music – a weekly exploration of vinyl finds in 2012. Read ’em all here.

Artist: Bruce Springsteen
Title: Darkness On the Edge of Town
Original Release: 1978
Label: CBS
Store: Rozelle Markets, 663 Darling Street  Rozelle NSW 2039
Price: $10
(Original US printing)

Markets. More than ever, they seem to be the place to pick up the odd record. Records have deeply fallen in with the vintage crowd. And Rozelle markets, a medium sized affair, has three or four dedicated record stalls. And then some of the stalls have a random pile of records in the corner somewhere too.

There’s a lot of these guys doing the rounds. Some have eBay stalls as well. But I see the same faces and the same records at some of these stalls. One guy in particular has been trying to flog off a Easybeats compilation with a great sleeve but horrible scratches at about four markets I’ve been to.

Maybe if I get to these markets earlier there would be a better selection. But I doubt these guys dig out their finest stuff for the markets. What they do have a lot of is mid-level finds. And I can never have more mid-level finds.

Despite Sony’s work in recent years, Darkness At the Edge of Town is not one of Springsteen’s more famous albums. It doesn’t have any of his big radio singles. No ‘Born To Run’, ‘Born In the USA’, ‘Dancing In the Dark’, ‘Hungry Heart’ etc. For a casual fan, looking at the tracklisting might lead them elsewhere.

In fact, it is kind of an unassuming album. Born To Run (1975), which came before this, was a revival of a dying career. A dramatic, commercial turn. The River (1980) that came after, was the ambitious double. Every album after has been an event. Where as Darkness came out after a long (and well documented elsewhere) break, and on the surface, offered more of the same.

I am a Springsteen fan. So I love this record. What it lacks in the big story, Springsteen offers us some of his finest songs. It’s his vision unencumbered by making some bigger point. That said, ‘The Promised Land‘ is probably a big an anthem as he’s ever made. But my personal favourites are the more tender moments, like ‘Racing In the Street‘.

Sony reissued Darkness a couple of years ago in a lovely book form. There are plenty of reviews online to read if you want to decide for yourself. If you’ve not heard much Springsteen before and are keen to, I wouldn’t start here. I would go with Born To Run.

Interestingly enough, this is my first Springsteen album on vinyl. I always see the stuff around, I guess because they made so much of it. It’s so regular I figured I’d get around to it one day. Good thing about this blog project that that day is now.

One final thought on this album – one that has always bugged me. The album cover is terrible. In the middle of a run of iconic album covers, he doesn’t even look like he thought about this one. The back cover is pretty much the same photo without the jacket. Who thought of this? Anyway, another reason this album is just short of a classic.